Working towards a body composition goal but the scale won’t budge? Despite popular belief, “weight loss” and “fat loss” are not always synonymous – so don’t get discouraged!
Even if you’re certain you have some stubborn kgs to lose or you are working hard to increase your muscle mass, sometimes seeing the scales move can take a while for a variety of reasons. As such, although useful in combination with other factors and under certain circumstances, weight on its own can be a poor indicator of progress.
Why you shouldn’t rely on the scales
The scales can be helpful – but only if you know how to critically interpret the number you see when you step on!
First, your weight can fluctuate wildly throughout the day. All you’re capturing by collecting your weight is a tiny snapshot of data, a moment in time, and it may be very different in an hour or two, depending on how much you eat and drink, as well as your bathroom trips. This is why if you do weigh yourself it is recommended to do so in the morning, on an empty stomach and at roughly the same time each day, as this will give you the most consistent environment. And even then, it can’t account for a whole range of variable day to day factors such as hydration status, daily food and fibre intake, hormone fluctuations and more.
For instance, your weight highly depends on how much water you consume, retain and excrete. If your sodium consumption was particularly high on a given day, this could result in water retention – with every retained mL tipping your scales up by ~1 g! Similar (temporary) effects can occur when adjusting to a new nutrition plan – e.g. upping your carb intake can sometimes promote natural fluid retention and isn’t anything to be worried about.
Hormonal fluctuations can play a role, too. For instance, right before your period, many women see a spike in the number on the scales due to changes in hormone levels and bloating prior to menstruation.
Also, some medications can cause weight fluctuations (again, usually through fluid retention), including but not limited to estrogen-containing drugs (e.g. certain types of contraceptives or drugs taken as a part of hormone replacement therapy), non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and beta-blockers. If you’ve just started taking any new medications, read the list of side effects to see if this could potentially solve the weight increase mystery – and know that most of such effects are temporary!
As for non-fluid related weight fluctuations? Well, the sheer weight of food you eat (and any changes in daily fibre intake) may have noticeable but temporary effects on your weight – especially if you’re a bit constipated or your bowel habits have slowed.
As you can see, it’s very normal for body weight to fluctuate considerably – but you may be wondering just how much can be expected. Turns out most adults can easily experience 1-3 kg weight fluctuations on a daily basis – so if you do track, it’s important to only pay attention to longer-term trends, not just two consecutive measurements.
So, if weight isn’t the most reliable progress indicator, what should you be paying attention to? Below are some tell-tale signs that you’re making amazing progress despite whatever the number on the scales is telling you!
Your measurements are going down on a fat loss goal
…and your clothes fit a little looser. Especially at the start of your health and fitness journey, your body composition is likely to be changing relatively quickly. You may have heard something along the lines of “muscle is heavier than fat” – but that’s not entirely accurate. What people mean by saying that is that muscle tissue is much denser than body fat, meaning that a smaller volume of muscle tissue can weigh as much, or more, as a bigger volume of fat.
By starting a consistent exercise and nutrition program, someone brand new to exercise may experience lean muscle growth at the same time as fat loss, though this is relatively rare. As a result, you can look smaller but weigh the same (due to muscle tissue density) – and it’s completely normal! In this case, you may notice that your measurements are going down, and/or some of your clothes are fitting looser/better too.
For those who are not brand new to exercise, it is more likely you will be losing body fat while eating in a calorie deficit, which will also result in a decrease in measurements, while those daily weight fluctuations may mask your perceived progress on the scale. This is when it’s important to trust the process!
Your performance is improving
We all have to start somewhere – and if you’re a fitness newbie, it’s completely normal to feel a bit uncoordinated and lost during your workouts, even if you have a plan to follow.
However, as time goes by, you will find yourself feeling more confident and willing to try new things. Your form will improve, and so will your range of motion. And eventually, you’ll be able to utilise heavier weights, or push yourself harder during your cardio sessions!
Building up strength and endurance has amazing effects on your health – so don’t ignore this aspect of your progress and celebrate these new achievements!
Your energy levels are increasing
Exercising and fuelling your body with nutrient-dense foods can make all the difference when it comes to mood and energy levels! Physical activity has a variety of beneficial effects, such as increasing the blood flow to all parts of your body. This improves cardiovascular health and allows more oxygen to circulate to every cell, which results in increased energy levels. And of course, a nutritious diet only enhances these amazing effects!
So, don’t be surprised if all of a sudden you start waking up 15 minutes before the alarm, instead of sleeping through it and having to hit the “snooze” button 5 more times.
You are developing good habits
Maybe health and fitness has not been a priority for you for many years. Perhaps you’ve tried strict “dieting” in the past, and unsurprisingly, it never worked. Regardless of where you came from, if you’ve been able to stick to a new lifestyle for a few weeks or months, stay consistent and develop some amazing healthy habits along the way – it’s certainly a massive achievement worth celebrating!
It’s all about being honest with yourself and flexible, yet making sure you’re still achieving your goals – and finding this delicate balance can take quite some time! So be patient with yourself, set small goals and celebrate small victories, as each of them represents fantastic progress that will add up over time.
Remember, what you see on the scales during your health and fitness journey should never determine the way you feel about yourself, and this number is just one piece of data in a much broader picture. We encourage everyone, regardless of your starting point, to trust the process and shift some of the focus toward the other amazing measures of progress discussed in this blog that aren’t related to your physique or the scale. Celebrate every win along the way, no matter how big or small, stay consistent, and you will both reach your goals and be proud of yourself as you progress in your own health and fitness journey.